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The Names We Give in Eritrea

Harnet (Liberation) Avenue, Asmara, Eritrea. 

By Natnael Yebio

"Sim Yimerh, tiwaf yebrih” is one of our country’s oldest aphorisms, left to us by our forefathers to say that a name could be an omen or a signal for what is bound to follow.

This proverbial expression has been running through my mind constantly or some time now. The reason for it doing so is the ever increasing indecorous way of naming our business companies and new born babies.

When the Turkish soap opera became a common household phenomenon, many young mothers didn’t hesitate to name their children after Mohanned, one of the lead characters of the Turkish films.

The same happened when the animated movie Shrek was released and young girls were named Fiona.

When I was in college in Adi Keyih, I found to my utter surprise, a young girl being called Kevin one evening. I couldn’t believe my ears so I asked one of the people who were calling her as such if that was some kind of a nickname.

Finding it was indeed her real name, I simply sat astounded and didn’t even dare to ask why she was given that name. Things people do!

And then there’s that story I heard about a family from a village in the Southern Region.

They apparently called their son William. I really wouldn’t know if they wanted to give the child a Shakespearian future; that is, if they even knew about him in the first place.

And what’s with calling your child ‘ambassador’? Beckham? Hillary? I could never find a justification. And then there are the names of restaurants and businesses that simply fail to make any sense to the native ears.

“Did you hear? We had dinner the other night at Rainbow Hotel.” Somebody says, trying to tell you of this new experience they had. It is not where they had dinner but the name of the place that mattered to me.

For any new location open for business, you find its name distant from the identity it is supposed to uphold. Our country is full of historical sites and people from different times and yet we still tend to choose names that are quite irrelevant to our history,culture, and society.

One of my friends told me that she was going to wait for me at ‘Peaceland’.

When I got to the place, I found out the whole sign was bigger than the place itself. “A peaceful land, a peaceful country…” I hopelessly tried to understand what the owners where trying to say with that name sign. Did they really run out of a name in an Eritrean language?

When a friend was going away on a trip and I found out we had to meet up for some sort of a farewell lunch, I asked where we were supposed to meet. “Why don’t we meet at Golden Fork, then maybe we can go to New Fork, Roof Garden or Castello, or even just the Blue Bird restaurant.”

The answer nauseated me. I tried to imagine myself in the shoes of an elder citizen with a limited knowledge of the English language. What would that list of names sound to that person? Some of the names would barely make any sense if they were to be translated into Tigrigna.

If we were to think in terms of the Eritrean way of eating, I’m not even sure what we would call the fork in Tigrigna or how bizarre they would all sound in their translated version.

A question that should be clearly addressed here is who these business firms belong to. If a business company in Eritrea doesn’t reflect Eritrean identity in any way, then why should it exist there in the first place? Eritrea is deemed as a place of historical values and identity and one of the ways to preserve our heritage and legacies is when our business companies rightly do so.

When the streets of Asmara fittingly got their names right after independence the immense joy and pride they brought to the people was immeasurable. Today, avenues such as Semaetat, Harnet, Warsay, Tegadelti glow Eritreans’ sense of nationalism.

What is wrong with our business companies then? Are we ashamed of our history or the idea of globalization and western influence have ensnared us to the point where we seem to have forgotten our own illustrious history.

Over a conversation with friends, we decided to list the names of several businesses in Asmara: Rotana, Florida, Alla Scala, Lion, Savannah, etc.. The list goes on. Some may have had longstanding names, and I could understand the hassles of coming up with a new name. But new businesses could easily put up Eritrean names.

It is the service that they provide to their customers that should be of importance to these institutions, not what name they are called by.

Especially, those that provide services mostly to people from abroad and foreigners are supposed to have Eritrean names and proudly endorse Eritrean culture and identity.

Someone who is visiting Eritrea all the way from Florida or San Francisco would not be excited to go to bars with those names. That just wouldn’t just make sense to the person.

One the other hand, if a restaurant was called Metera or Dearit or a pub had the name ‘Belew Kelew,’ the history being sold with the name would somewhat be significant.I heard that as of recently, the business licensing office has stopped registering names of businesses that are not indigenous.

When a photo studio owner was told he could not put ‘Rainbow’ as the name of his shop, adamant to keep the name, he opted to put in the language of one of the Eritrean ethnic groups.

I haven’t forgotten those places, old and new, that have chosen to put up authentic Eritrean names. Laza Restaurant is just one of the most recent additions to this list.

Websters dictionary defines the word name either as a word or phrase that constitutes the distinctive designation of a person or thing or a word or symbol used in logic to designate an entity. Names are permanent and they should seek to signify our identity and uniqueness and with that theyought to be selected with great amount of consideration.

After all, just because we picked western names and wrote them in a different language doesn’t mean we are progressing. The fact remains that what is not yours will never be yours!
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The Names We Give in Eritrea Reviewed by Admin on 12:01 AM Rating: 5

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